Living with guilt

All day today I have either read on blogs, heard on the radio, seen on TV or spoken to some of my students about Armistice Day and it made me realise that apart from my post about St Martin’s Day there should be another blog today:
about living with guilt.

You see, as a German living in England I always feel uneasy around this time of year. A lot of people don’t understand why I feel like I do and it isn’t that easy to explain. Why should I feel uneasy? Like everybody else in England I am extremely grateful to all those soldiers during WW2 who put a stop to Hitler and his ideas.
But I’ve been brought up feeling guilty about the war. Not by my parents, thank goodness, but by society.
As a child I didn’t learn about WW2, our history lessons stopped after WW1. One kept quiet and didn’t talk about it AND one was supposed to feel guilty for what happened during the war!

All well and good, except, I was born 12 years after the war!

Should I really feel guilty about something people two generations before me did? The way some people react, it seems the answer is ‘yes’.
Before I moved to England 28 years ago I read an article in a magazine about the abuse some Germans in England got, and I was horrified. Luckily I have encountered very little of that, although, when I left a secondary school where I had been teaching  one student wrote ‘good riddance Nazi bitch’ on the table. I didn’t expect to see something like that so many years after the war!

I agree that we should never forget, but please let’s start and forgive, especially people who were born after a conflict … and that doesn’t just apply to Germans!

Do you agree?

3 thoughts on “Living with guilt”

  1. If we all felt guilty about what our forbears did, we would be in trouble. For 200 years, the British developed a huge fleet of warships and chased imperial ambitions all over the globe.

    Angela, I don’t know if you are watching the BBC’s series on Hitler’s Dark Charisma ( but it adds something new to the well-worn facts about the Third Reich.  
    The emergence of Hitler owes as much to the allies’ treatment of Germany at the Treaty of Versailles as anything else. We must all take a share of blame, and guilt, for the violence of 20th Century Europe.I was stationed in Germany with the British Army from 1976-1980 and I never sensed any guilt there: I made particular friends of two German families and was lucky to be invited to Sunday dinners (nur Deutsch gesprochen bitte!). We were popular in our garrison town, Hameln: two engineer regiments who helped the local Amt with civil engineering tasks free-of-charge.Only you know where your guilt comes from but, if I were German, I would celebrate Remembrance Day in Britain: it is there for all the participants of a senseless conflict and the grief and sadness it wreaked all over the world. Next year, lay a wreath on your local war memorial for all servicemen and women from all nations.There is no jingoism involved in remembering the dead of all nations, together. Death has no nationality.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I do celebrate Remembrance Sunday and you wouldn’t have sensed the guilt when in Germany. We don’t talk about it. We were brought up feeling guilty and keep quiet. But that doesn’t mean we would have been unfriendly to the British Army.

    English people are used to show their national pride (like during the Football world cup). Only recently did the Germans start to show the same pride. We were brought up that we were not allowed to be proud to be Germans, because of what WE did during the war – that guilt is not easy to shift!

  3. I do understand the national guilt complex but it’s time Germany broke out of that. Japan, too. My father was interned by the Japanese and lost a third of his body weight in captivity but somehow survived. He wouldn’t buy anything Japanese until the early 80s when we went to Sinagapore and met some of his gaolers at Changi Airport, where the concentration camp was situated. He was reconciled and he forgave and, from then on, was stoutly pro-Japanese.


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